- RPCs moot wage between Rs. 725 and Rs. 1,100
- Workers plan to boycott work
- Look beyond politics: RPCs to TUs
Trade unions (TUs) representing plantation workers yesterday (1) expressed strong opposition to a revised wage proposal presented by the regional plantation companies (RPCs), according to which workers would receive a basic daily wage of Rs. 725 and a maximum daily wage of Rs. 1,108.
Speaking to The Morning, Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) Deputy Leader Senthil Thondaman said the revised proposal is unacceptable as the Rs. 1,000 basic wage has been demanded due to the high cost of living, which the proposed basic wage of Rs. 725 does not cover.
“The RPCs are playing with the workers’ lives as the latter are asking for Rs. 1,000 only for food and survival. The RPCs are not proposing a fixed wage – they are proposing a probability wage. As such, we have decided to commence a ‘Token of Dissatisfaction’ protest on Friday (5), where workers will boycott work for a day,” said Thondaman.
Movement for Plantation People’s Land Rights (MPPLR) Convenor S.T. Ganeshalingam also said the Rs. 1,000 daily wage remains non-negotiable.
“The productivity incentives the RPCs are proposing may lead to some workers receiving a Rs. 1,000 wage on a certain number of days. But we are speaking on behalf of all 150,000 plantation workers who deserve a Rs. 1,000 daily wage,” said Ganeshalingam.
However, the RPCs yesterday urged that TUs should not get “political” in their response to the revised proposal.
“We urge trade unions to consider this proposal in the best interest of the plantation worker, looking beyond political interest,” said Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) Secretary General S.K.L. Obeyesekere in a statement released by the PA yesterday.
The statement explains that the revised wage proposal of Rs. 1,108 would be achieved by granting a basic wage of Rs. 725, a price share supplement of Rs. 50, EPF/ETF of Rs. 108, and an attendance and productivity incentive of Rs. 225. The statement also claimed that Minister of Labour Nimal Siripala de Silva has given the green light for the revised proposal.
When contacted for confirmation, Media Secretary to the Labour Minister Upul Jayasinghe told The Morning that the Minister ultimately desires a mutual agreement.
“The green light for the revised proposal has been given, but the Minister’s ultimate wish is for the PA and the TUs to sign the collective agreement, instead of taking the route of the Wages Board.”
The Morning exclusively reported last week that the Ministry of Labour has warned RPCs that a Wages Board would be convened to pass Rs. 1,000 as the minimum daily wage for plantation sector workers into law, if the RPCs and the TUs cannot reach an agreement on the issue of the basic daily wage by mid-February.
Meanwhile, Jayasinghe also commented on the meeting held on 31 January between the Labour Minister, the PA, and the TUs, where a discussion had occurred over the number of years the collective agreement should be signed for between the PA and the TUs.
“The PA proposed that the collective agreement should be signed for four years instead of the current two-and-a-half. However, the TUs refused this proposal, after which the Minister suggested a period of three years to which the TUs are yet to respond,” said Jayasinghe.
Speaking to The Morning, PA Media Spokesperson Dr. Roshan Rajadurai confirmed that the aforementioned discussion had taken place, where the PA had finally agreed to the three-year period proposed by the Minister.
Dr. Rajadurai further said that if the Wages Board is convened as per the wishes of the TUs, the PA is of the firm stance that the collective agreement would be fully abrogated.
The proposal for increasing the minimum wage of plantation workers to Rs. 1,000 was declared at the Budget 2021 reading in December 2020 by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The RPCs, however, have maintained throughout that a Rs. 1,000 daily wage is not financially feasible for the companies.